- Yesterday -
Rich California countryside raced by the large glass window as the Southern Pacific's Coastline Express headed towards Los Angeles. The young, beautiful twenty-year-old in the window seat tried to lose herself in the ever changing tapestry, but try as she could, the redhead couldn't shut out the droning voice of the woman sitting next to her.
For the tenth time in the last hour since she'd boarded the train at San Jose, the blue-dressed girl regretted taking this seat. She had been traveling cross-country for over a week now. Every time she changed trains, she'd made it a point to find a nice quiet woman to sit next to. This time she had chosen so very badly.
For over an hour the woman who'd introduced herself as Veronica Wilder had gone on and on about every subject imaginable. From how badly President Truman was going to lose to Governor Dewey in the fall elections, to what a wonderful performance Jane Wyman had given in "Johnny Belinda". She seemed especially fascinated by the winner of the best actress Oscar.
"Isn't it a shame," Veronica had said, "that she divorced her husband just when her career reached the top."
"Yes, it is a shame," The young woman had replied when she was still trying to stay interested in the conversation. It didn't take her long to realize that Veronica didn't need an appreciative audience to keep talking.
"Well it's his loss, believe you me," she went on. "And trust me, fifty years from now people will still talk about what a great actress Jane Wyman was and no one will ever remember Ronald Reagan."
So it had went on, covering other subjects including the Summer Olympics in London to Dinah Shore and Perry Como's latest hits. Even hiding her head in the Saturday Evening Post did little to discourage the older woman. Finally the younger woman just gave up and began to stare out the window.
"Dear Cousin, there you are," said a strong voice from the aisle. "I've been looking for you all over the train. I thought we were going to meet in the dining car?"
That finally ended Veronica's monologue as both women looked up to see a tall woman in her mid-twenties with black hair. She was dressed in the uniform of an Army Nurse.
The redhead didn't recognize the woman, but realized this was an opportune moment to rid herself of Veronica. Quickly she decided to go along with what had to be the Army Officer's mistake.
"Where is my head at today?" she asked herself aloud. "Here I am enjoying our little conversation so much that I totally forgot. I do hope you haven't been looking for me long, dear cousin."
"Not too long," the dark-haired woman smiled. "After all, I only came aboard the train at the last stop."
"Veronica, you must excuse me," the young redhead said to her seatmate.
"Oh of course," the older woman said as she made room for the younger woman to pass. "I totally understand."
With a warm smile goodbye, the young woman left Veronica behind and followed the Army Lieutenant down the aisle.
As they moved into the next car and out of earshot, the redhead reached out and touched the shoulder of the woman in front of her. A brief touch, just enough to get her attention as she paused in her step and turned around.
"I have to apologize," the redhead said in a quiet voice. "I think I've taken advantage of your error."
"You mean we're not cousins?" the brunette said in mock surprise.
"Then it wasn't a mistake?" the younger woman asked cautiously.
"You just looked like you needed help," the Nurse smiled. "I've had my share of bad company."
"I did. I guess I owe you my thanks then."
"Well since we were supposed to meet in the dining car, why don't we have a cup of tea?"
"I think that's an excellent suggestion," came the reply. "We can catch up on old times," she laughed.
"I guess I should introduce myself then," the Army Nurse said as she extended her hand. "Alice Caldwell."
"Scarlett," the redhead beamed as she reached out with her own hand. "Scarlett McMurphy."
Even this late in the afternoon, the dining car was still surprisingly full. Two young men in front of them in line graciously offered to share their table. Both Scarlett and Alice were quick to decline their offer, saying they had no problem waiting for the next free table.
The suggestion was one that both women encountered daily. Alice was tall with a graceful athletic build, suggestive of a dancer. Her small firm breasts were visible enough beneath her uniform jacket so that no one was ever going to mistake her for anything but a young woman. Her face was more suggestive of the term cute than beautiful, but she had the kind of looks that would follow her far into middle age. Her black hair was cut just short enough to fulfill army regulations, then tied up in a bun.
Scarlett, on the other hand, had never been described as anything but stunning. Only an inch shorter than Alice at five ten, she had a build that seemed copied from a statue of Aphrodite. Her bust, concealed beneath her simple traveling dress, was larger than Alice's but just as firm. The only makeup she wore was simple dark red lipstick, which served to accent the natural beauty of her features. Rich flowing red hair, which would've stretched down her back if undone, was instead held in place by an elaborate hairstyle.
By the time they were led to their table five minutes later by a white-jacketed steward, they could tell they were already on the way to becoming fast friends.
As her uniform attested, Alice was an Army Nurse and had been for eighteen months. Twenty-six years old, she was traveling to Los Angeles on leave before reporting to San Diego for her first overseas assignment. She had joined the Army in order, as she put it, to see something besides the twenty square miles that comprised Ethan Falls, California. Both her mother and father had been born there, and neither had ever ventured more than fifty miles from the center of town their whole lives.
"So what strange and exotic place is the Army sending you?" Scarlett asked as they picked up their small menus.
"Seoul, Korea," Alice said as she laid down her menu, making a quick choice. "I'm going to be assigned to the new hospital they just built there."
Sounds exciting," the younger redhead said as she also put down her menu. "Although I only have a general idea where Korea even is."
"Don't feel bad," Alice replied as she signaled the waiter that they were ready to order. "I don't think many people do, myself included. I had to go and look it up on a map."
In response to Alice's inquiries, Scarlett explained that she was going to school at a small private college called Ravenwood just outside of Los Angeles. She had been back east visiting her family during the summer break.
"You came all the way across country by train?" a surprised Alice asked. "Most people these days would've flown. It's a lot faster and definitely a lot more comfortable."
"My brother was a pilot in the Navy," Scarlett said in way of explanation. "Actually I should say he was a Naval Aviator, he was always correcting me on that. That was back when I was just hitting my teens. Sean was on the Yorktown at Midway and..."
Scarlett paused, unable to finish her sentence. Alice reached out and took the younger woman's hand in support, telling her there was no need to explain further. She didn't have to hear the words to know that Sean was one of those brave young men who didn't come back to enjoy the fruits of the still recent victory.
"We'll just say that you don't like to fly and leave it at that," she said as she squeezed her hand. "I'm not too crazy about it myself. That's why I'm glad I'm going to Korea by boat," she added, changing the subject.
Over their tea and the small sandwiches they'd ordered, the two women found that despite the wide difference in their backgrounds they had a lot in common. Enough for both of them to feel a certain measure of regret that their association would be a brief one.
Underneath the surface of their animated conversation, there seemed to be a secondary level of attraction as well. It wasn't really anything that could be called tangible, or even something that would be recognizable to either of them. Unless of course they wanted to perceive it.
Finishing their small snack, Alice suggested that it might be a good idea to try to find some seats on the other end of the train as not to run back into Veronica. Scarlett agreed with the thought.
Luck was with them as many seats had emptied out at Santa Barbara. There were only two more stops left before Los Angeles and the train was already a third empty.
"So what are your plans when we get to the city?" Scarlett asked.
"Well, I guess the first thing to do would be to find a nice hotel to stay at," Alice answered. "Something not too expensive. Any place you might suggest?"
Scarlett seemed to look beyond Alice for a moment, lost in a thought. Then a big smile filled her face and an answer gushed forth.
"I know a great place," she said in an excited voice. "And not expensive at all. In fact, it wouldn't cost you a cent."
"I don't understand," Alice said.
"My Grandmother has a small place by the water," Scarlett explained. "I sometimes go up there on weekends. She's in Europe right now, but I'm sure she wouldn't mind if I used it, or if I invited a guest."
"Oh I couldn't," Alice said. "Please don't think that I was suggesting that you find me a place to stay."
.... There is more of this story ...